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A History of the Native People of Canada
Volume I (10,000 to 1,000 B.C.)

Early Northwest Interior Culture (Précis, Chapter 13)

Early Northwest Interior culture is a tentative cultural construct. It could even be called a classificatory 'catch-all' bred of archaeological desperation. The nature of the archaeological evidence makes it difficult to determine if there is one or two or more distinct cultures in the region. A range of factors have coalesced to insure an exceptional poverty of clear archaeological evidence. Early Northwest Interior culture may have been initially represented by a technology with bifacially flaked tools but lacking a microblade technology called Northern Cordilleran (Clark 1991). Microblade technology was adopted later from the west, except in the northern Yukon where it was probably present at a very early date (Cinq-Mars 1990). There is the problem of whether the movement of microblade technology out of Alaska into the Yukon Territory, the western portion of the Mackenzie District of the Northwest Territories, and northern British Columbia, represented an actual movement of people bearing a distinctive culture or was simply microblade technology being adopted by indigenous populations. There is the additional problem of whether, in many instances, the absence of microblade technology reflects specific site function where microblades were not required rather than evidence of a culture lacking microblade technology. As has been aptly noted "...the logical and probable existence of Northwest Microblade tradition sites without microblades is an insidious problem inasmuch as identification of this tradition is dependent on the recovery of microblades or cores" (Clark 1987: 167). The mixture of traits also causes classification problems. The Tuktu complex of the Brooks Range of northern Alaska (Campbell 1962) "...could be classified as early Northern Archaic, as a regional form of the Northwest Microblade tradition, or as a later development out of Denali and the Paleo-Arctic tradition ..." (Clark 1981: 113). Certainly the almost whimsical presence and absence and disappearance and reappearance of microblades throughout much of the archaeological record of the region would suggest that this particular element of technology can be quite untrustworthy as a cultural diagnostic (Clark 1983: 11; Morlan and Cinq-Mars 1982: 373). On the other hand, the complex demands made on the tool manufacturer during the production of microblades, not to mention their associated composite tool organic hafting elements, would imply that the knowledge to produce microblades must have been a highly integrated element within a culture's technology. Following a personal inclination to favour diffusion as a major cause of cultural change rather than population replacement in northern environs, a scenario that envisions an initial occupation of the region by the Northern Cordilleran complex, with its Nenana-Chindadn complex/Palaeo-Indian relationships, onto which microblade technology was grafted at a later date, is favoured albeit with some trepidation. In this respect the Northern Cordilleran complex would represent the earlier manifestation of Early Northwest Interior cultural development while the microblade component would represent a later attribute of the same culture. These developments carried into Period III. While it would have been a simpler matter to have argued for the existence of an early culture lacking microblades (Northern Cordilleran complex) followed by a replacing microblade culture (Northwest Microblade complex) neither the limited evidence nor the economic foundations of these early northerners support such a descriptively convenient sequence of population and cultural replacement.

Given the paucity of evidence for Early Northwest Interior culture no attempt will be made to generalize about the various cultural subsystems in the précis. Certainly a major factor in this scarcity of information is that "With a few exceptions, archaeological sites in the western Subarctic are either small and sparse or involve shallow multiple occupations, often over large areas, that are disturbed and mixed through frost action" (Clark 1981: 107). The situation has then been compounded by a virtual lack of bone preservation and a not particularly distinctive chipped stone tool technology.

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